In three days, the political leaders of the world, top executives and thought leaders will convene in Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
The front page of the WEF website features an aerial photo of the Swiss mountain town of Davos. The angle of the photo and the fish-eye distortion makes me think that the photo was snapped with a light weight camera mounted on a drone.
The programme for the 2014 conference only has one mention of drones, and that is mainly in the context of warfare and diplomacy (see session 227) although the agenda will also look at “implications for business and civil society”. It will be interesting to watch the perspectives being shared in this session.
I expect drones to pop up in a number of different contexts though, for example in sessions focusing on robotics, disaster response or those with a strong technology bent.
Drones’ move to the forefront of public interest probably happened too late in 2013 to really influence the Davos agenda this year but some of WEF’s blogs in the latter part of 2013 did look into the technology and impacts.
However, in the article on Five stories that defined tech in 2013 drones are mentioned as not making the list.
In the WEF list of the top 10 internet and technology trends for 2014, drones are mentioned in point 7 only in the context of intraday delivery, i.e. the Amazon PrimeAir story. Personally, I think we’ll see drones influence the technology agenda in a multitude of ways in 2014 but e-commerce intraday delivery is a bit further out in the future.
So in a relative dearth of drone coverage it is refreshing to find a succinct description of how ‘friendly drones’ may impact the world. The piece is written by Dario Floreano, Professor of Robotics and AI and a member of WEF’s Global Agenda Council on Robotics & Smart Devices.
In the article, WEF demonstrates that they are aware of the potential of civilian drones but also the barriers due to restrictive regulation.
Mr Floreano notes that civilian proliferation of drones far outnumber military drones. The US military operates 7,100 drones. WEF notes that just one civilian model, the Parrot AR, alone has sold half a million units. (I don’t know numbers for DJI, another manufacturer of the popular Phantom series of drones, but it is impressive that just the Android app for one of their four entry level models has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.) Add to that the scores of people who has built and fly their own drones.
One of the areas highlighted as benefitting from advances in drone technology is safety and security. Remember the Amazon vision of delivery by drone? Well, the prospect is much more compelling in areas where the roads are unsafe or internal strife makes it difficult to get around.
Despite a growing number of opportunities and a rapidly evolving technology, the global impact is likely to be felt unevenly due to fragmented and emerging regulation – sometimes regulation is too restrictive, at other times lacking. WEF urges a dialogue between policy-makers and experts.